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Book details
  • Genre:NATURE
  • SubGenre:Animals / Wildlife
  • Language:English
  • Pages:150
  • Hardcover ISBN:9798350931129

A Year at a Beaver Pond

Observations from One Little Dynamic Ecosystem

by Al Cornell

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"A Year at a Beaver Pond" reveals the dynamic activity that took place within the mini ecosystem of a one-tenth acre beaver pond. With over 130 pictures and insightful text, you are drawn into the unfolding of the events that transpired there. Like the author, you will be entertained by anticipated wildlife activities and amazed by the unexpected. Wood ducks and beaver ponds go together, but who would imagine that on two occasions those ducks chased off a mink or that two older wood duck hens would show up that donned mostly male feather patterns? Otters proved to be amazingly elusive until one finally frolicked in the limelight. A week later there were three. Open the book and see the well adapter one-legged solitary sandpiper and the beaver reaching up to feed on bark after an April snowstorm. Snipe, mallards, warblers, waxwings, raccoons, deer, and brown trout were among the pond users. In total, 61 species of birds, nine mammals, a few fish, toads, various insects, and a jumping spider spun a dynamic web of life that used that one little beaver pond and its immediate footprint. The ecology of this pond provides the framework for our understanding that beavers constitute a keystone species.

A beaver pond, that had gone undetected because of the tall wetland vegetation, became visible after a late winter snowfall flattened that vegetation. It had been built the previous summer and fall. Sally and I were driving down the road a mile from our house when we observed it and watched a bald eagle go into a sudden stoop toward a wood duck. The frightened duck shot down over the dam and escaped downstream. A few days later, I entered a small blind on the edge of the pond 45 minutes before sunrise. That quickly grew from a session to an obsession and then to "A Year at a Beaver Pond." Dozens of pages of field notes and thousands of photos provided the foundation for a story. With this book, you too can sit by the dam and envision what transpires at that tenth of an acre pond. Though small, that mini ecosystem adds dramatically to the adjacent habitat. In the sediment beneath the pond, a myriad of insect larvae feed on deposited organic matter. Most of them, at some stage in their metamorphosis, become food for fish, birds, raccoons, or larger insects. In turn, fish become food for larger fish, birds, and mammals. This book is the product of observing insects, toads, and trout along with 61 species of birds and nine species of mammals that were drawn to the footprint of the pond. By the footprint, I mean the pond, the dam, and the vegetation growing at the immediate edge of the pond. Otter were elusive until one finally decided to frolic in the magical early morning light. A beaver even used a rock for a dam repair. Warblers, swallows, flycatchers, and waxwings fed on insects from tiny moth flies to long-legged craneflies. The trout feeding activity peaked when dozens were jumping during the midge hatch. A raccoon brought her young ones to sift through the sediments for edible morsels. Sandpipers and snipe probed the shallow water and the mudflats for earthworms and larvae. When mudflats were exposed, mink, a cottontail, and many birds used them for travel and feeding. The little remnant willow near the blind was searched by small birds, used as a landing spot by those feeding on flighted insects, and used by kingfishers and herons that fed on trout. Jewelweed, blooming on the dam, enticed hummingbirds and bumblebees. The ecological wonder of beaver ponds helps establish a sense of the value of beavers. By gradually overcoming the bias that they are just a nuisance, perhaps at some point, we will be able to tolerate half of the population that inhabited this continent before the massive fur harvest decimated them.
About the author

Al has a degree in natural resources management and is a retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Technician. He is a member of The Wildlife Society. He has had over 200 articles on wildlife ecology and outdoor inspiration published in outdoor magazines and over 700 wildlife photos in magazines, books, and calendars. He and his wife reside on a portion of the farm where he grew up in one of those hollows in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. He spent about 450 hours at a nearby beaver pond observing and photographing that dynamic ecosystem.

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